The public has a rare opportunity to make sure that organizations and institutions treat them fairly. The U.S. Department of Education is accepting comments on proposed federal regulations that will govern career education programs. These include most programs at for-profit colleges, where about half of undergraduate students are people of color.
Career education is supposed to prepare people for specific jobs in fields like culinary arts, criminal justice, medical assisting, auto repair and many others. But too many for-profit career colleges are roping in students with deceptive marketing and aggressive sales tactics, providing substandard training, and leaving students deep in debt they cannot repay A recent Government Accountability Office investigation documented some of these exploitative practices, including lying to prospective students about job prospects and even encouraging them to commit fraud.
For-profit colleges can get up to 90 percent of their revenues from federal student aid, and they are legally obligated to make shareholder profitability their overriding goal. While they enroll less than 10 percent of all students, they account for 25 percent of federal student aid and 44 percent of all federal student loan defaults. Next year alone, students will borrow an estimated $30 billion in federal student loans to attend these colleges.
Federal law requires career education programs that receive federal student aid to “prepare students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation.” The proposed rules define “gainful employment” for the first time, making it possible to enforce this important law. The for-profit education industry is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on high-priced lobbyists to try to weaken or delay these rules.
“The Education Department has taken an important step in proposing these regulations, but the rules must be stronger to really protect students and taxpayers,” said Lauren Asher, president at the Institute for College Access & Success. “All students need access to quality, affordable education and training and protection from rip-off programs that over-promise and under-deliver. Career education programs that routinely leave students worse off than if they’d never enrolled should not be able to keep profiting from federal student grants and loans.”
A group of nearly 30 organizations advocating for civil rights, consumers and students (including the Institute for College Access & Success, National Council of La Raza, California Coalition for Civil Rights, United States Student Association and Consumer Federation of America) have called for tougher rules, so that career education programs that receive federal aid are more accountable to their students and to taxpayers. They have asked the Department of Education to set higher loan repayment standards for career education programs receiving federal student aid; to require programs that have a poor track record to improve in order to keep receiving student aid; to provide equal protection for families with children; and to start protecting students next year.
A broad coalition has also created a new website—www.ProtectStudentsAndtaxpayers.org, where people can learn more about the regulations and send public comments to the Department of Education.
The public is invited to visit the website, educate themselves on the issues, and submit comments to ensure their voices are heard.